Ezili names a family of freshwater spirits from Dahomey who are now among the most powerful and significant female spirits of Haitian Vodou. Their name derives from Lake Azili, which is approximately fifty miles east of Abomey. The Ezilis are beautiful snake-women spirits similar to Mami Waters. The snakes with which the Ezilis are associated are beautiful, glittery, potentially deadly snakes. In her most traditional aspect, Ezili is a woman from the waist up, a snake down below. Their common attribute is a jewelled knife. They are spirits of wealth, abundance, beauty, and fertility. When Dahomean slaves arrived in what was then Saint Domingue but is now Haiti, they saw the Mater Dolorosa, an iconic image of Mary that features a beautiful, bejewelled woman pierced by swords. They recognized the essence of Ezili in the image.
That’s one way of looking at Ezili. Alternatively there was originally only one African snake spirit named Ezili. She travelled to Haiti; her reaction to the trauma of slavery and its aftermath was to fracture. She is one spirit possessing multiple personalities. Yet another way of comprehending Ezili is as sisters in one family and their different destinies. Ezili Freda, the sister who can pass for white, became a courtesan. Her darker-skinned sister, Ezili Dantor, became a revolutionary.
Some perceive all the Ezilis to be aspects of Ezili Freda Dahomey.
The most prominent of the Ezilis is Ezili Freda Dahomey. If people discuss Ezili as if there is only one, then she is almost invariably the one they mean. The Ezilis are competitive spirits. Like sisters, they engage in rivalries and do not necessarily get along. It is not considered beneficial to ask different Ezilis to work on the same issue for you. They will just squabble with each other and never get around to you. Different Ezilis are syncretized to different manifestations of Mary.
Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses– Written by Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.